The State Worker

California tax board adopts more oversight of spending

Jerome Horton is seen on the floor of the state Assembly in 2005.
Jerome Horton is seen on the floor of the state Assembly in 2005. Los Angeles Times file

California’s tax-collecting Board of Equalization has moved swiftly to clamp down on purchase contracts and leases following a Sacramento Bee report that revealed one member’s office furniture cost taxpayers more than $130,000.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution requiring the agency’s new executive director, David Gau, to provide “weekly reports on all contracts over $50,000 under consideration,” in addition to the current rule that requires contracts of $1 million or more come to the board for a vote.

The new policy also requires the executive director to “regularly report on significant changes” to leased space and requires board approval for new office leases.

The expanded responsibilities for the executive director amended an existing agenda item on Tuesday and were posted on the board’s website and announced via email the same day.

Officials in the board’s public relations office did not respond to questions about the timing of the new policies.

$740,000The amount of money taxpayers are spending each year to lease four downtown Sacramento office suites for members of the Board of Equalization

The amendment followed a Bee investigation this week that found that board member Jerome Horton last fall received designer office furniture that cost $118,000 plus another $12,000 to deliver and install. For reasons unknown, six new white-leather-and-wood chairs that cost about $1,200 each went into storage.

Horton has refused to discuss the purchase with The Bee. His chief of staff, Kari Hammond, suggested that BOE bureaucrats made the decision to purchase the furniture, but that Horton would not name them because he is “protective of the agency.” A spokeswoman for the agency, however, said that its purchasing agents work for managers who are hired and fired by the board.

Horton said during Tuesday’s board meeting that the weekly contract report policy is “a good thing,” but suggested that the board needed to provide Gau “further clarification” for monitoring contracts for goods and services.

“Transactions take place that the executive director and the board may not be privy to,” Horton said.

None of the new policies were on the agenda before Tuesday. Because the changes were amendments to an existing agenda item about the powers of the BOE’s executive director, the agency did not violate the public-notice provisions of state open meeting laws, agency spokeswoman Venus Stromberg said.

The obscure yet powerful five-member board, elected by California voters, employs roughly 4,200 employees who collect and process $60.5 billion annually in business taxes, sales taxes and various fees.